The San Diego Union-Tribune (officially re-rebranded as of last week, though its domain name hasn’t caught up yet) has been running lots of lots of news articles about the Chargers stadium plan, too many to take in all at once. Let’s find a promising one: How about Saturday’s “Why the Chargers need cash to stay,” which promises to explain the reasons that San Diego citizens should be putting up between $650 million and $ 1.15 billion when the team is willing to build a stadium in Carson for far less in subsidies? Let’s begin:
When it comes to financing new NFL stadiums, think of the Great Recession as halftime in a one-sided football game poised for a big shift in momentum.
I’m sorry, my brain just broke. Enough with the forced sports metaphors, people!
The upshot of the article appears to be that until 2006, the public spent a lot of money on NFL stadiums, but “since 2010, when the New York Jets and Giants built their own new stadium, the trend has clearly moved toward more hefty private contributions.”
Really? The chart that the U-T includes with its article indeed shows several stadiums with larger private costs in recent years (Dallas, New York, Atlanta, Miami, Santa Clara):
But that’s a bit misleading: Atlanta’s public cost is listed at $200 million rather than the $554 million that is more accurate, and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is getting around $100 million in public subsidies toward his own stadium work, which isn’t even a new stadium at all, just a renovation. Take that away and the main trend is that NFL stadiums have gotten way more expensive, and team owners have largely covered that additional cost, while public expenses have remained pretty consistent.
And why have costs soared? The U-T notes that “owners now want the biggest and best so they can command even higher premiums from well-heeled fans and corporations,” while economist Victor Matheson credits this to “stadium envy.” It’s unclear whether this means owners are earning their money back on more expensive stadiums (in bigger markets, at least) or just trying to keep up with the Joneses, but that’s okay, because it genuinely is unclear which is the case, especially for stadiums that haven’t opened yet.
The U-T’s conclusion, meanwhile, is that cities aren’t throwing money at NFL teams anymore, but that’s because only big cities are building NFL stadiums, so San Diego still needs to throw money at its team. That’s pretty much wrong on all counts (Atlanta and Minneapolis are big cities?), but it’s right enough in a couple of cases (New York, Santa Clara) that it’s good enough for newspaper work, and ducks asking questions about whether the proposed public expense for a Chargers stadium is either worth it or necessary to keep the team in town, or just a number that a bunch of local CEOs picked out of a hat in hopes it would make the team owners happy. But there are lots more U-T articles out there to be written — why look, here’s one on how a public vote is needed to prevent the “threat” of a referendum drive that could “stall” the stadium campaign — so I’m sure they’ll get around to the actual finances of the financial plan eventually.